Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Little Perspective

It was a busy day. The kind of day that started with a 7:10 am meeting that I was late for. From that point onward the day was in fast motion. Homeroom, welcome-back/safety assembly, a short first period, every class to the library, pictures with 3rd period, 35 minute lunch, two more classes, team meeting, doctors appointment, and a bowl of cereal for dinner before heading back to work for Back to School Night.

At some point during the madness of the day I looked down at the paper bead bracelet on my wrist. It was made by a woman somewhere in Uganda. Beading offers a small source of income--a way to rise above financial woes. The poverty they live in is more than I can imagine.

Thinking of the women who bead didn't make my day any easier, but it sure did put it in perspective.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Another Kind of Vacation Reflection

Can I rant about air travel for just a minute or two?

I recently paid $26 extra dollars for a seat on my US Air flight from Portland, ME to Philadelphia, PA. Just to be clear, I was not in first class. A CL-65 has no such thing. On a 48-seater everyone is the same, it’s a class-less flight--unless you start talking about overhead space.

I paid extra because it was one of the last open seats on the plane when I purchased my ticket. US Air’s reasoning is that the upgraded seat allows me to be among the first to board the plane- a real privilege.

Boarding the plane first is a big deal these days. Early boarders are less likely to have to fight for the coveted over-head space. The unfortunate ones that end up boarding with the Zone 4 and 5 people walk on the plane with wide eyes darting every which way looking for 40 inches of free space to jam their 45 inch carry-on bag into.


It costs $25 to check a bag on US Air. Mathematically speaking I lost $1 on this transaction.

Actually, even that’s not true…read on.

The tiny regional jet used for small trips like one from Maine to Pennsylvania has even less overhead space. There’s no way the standard rolling carry-on bag is going to fit in the slim space above the seat so passengers were asked to check their rolling bags plane-side. That means that in reality my extra $26 got me…absolutely nothing.

Well, nothing worth $26.

Because I was the 6th person to board the plane I got to watch and privately judge the other passengers as they filed past me to their seats.

There was the older gentleman who apparently missed the announcement that all rolling bags should be checked plane-side. Either that or he thought his bulky, blue case had a magic “shrink this bag” button.

Other airline passengers often quietly annoy me; the grating ones are those who fail to follow the etiquette of air travel or individuals who appear unaware of common courtesy.

A few of the behaviors that bug me are:

1. Cell phone addicts

These are the people, usually men, sitting in their aisle seat chatting away on cell phones when I get on the plane. They are bothered by passengers like me who board after them – because I’m not a member of their many miles club that gives them preboarding privileges—interrupting their important business call so I can grab my seat by the window. They usually roll their eyes just a bit when someone gestures that they need to get by.

2. Window seat sleepers

Oh how I do wish I could sleep on a plane, really I do. Unfortunately, anxiety and ADD usually get the best of me so anything more than a sixty-second catnap is unlikely. Looking out the window is about the only thing I can count on to keep myself from being tortured by total, mind-numbing boredom.

Earlier this summer I found myself in a middle seat on a 5-hour flight to Phoenix. The young gal in the window seat next to me shut the window shade as soon as she sat down. She then grabbed a blue sweatshirt from her bag for a makeshift pillow and settled in for a nice, long nap. I was stuck analyzing the pattern in the blue seatback in front of me.

Okay, this gripe probably is a bit selfish, but you know how easy it is to get carried away when ranting.

3. The airlines themselves…that’s you, US Air

Granted, I don’t fly that often but really, what happened? The prime seat charge is bad enough, but isn’t it just crazy to charge $6 for a blanket and a pillow? Calling it a premium sleep package doesn’t make it any more than it is or ever was—a miniature pillow and a thin acrylic blanket.

What happened to the food, complete with the tiny flatware? I know I should be thankful for the complimentary soft drinks, all 4 ounces of them, but would it be so hard to throw a few pretzels my way?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Vacation Reflection

It was literally the strawberry on top of the week. I’ve never tasted anything like it and from the way Michael’s eyes popped out of his head, neither had he.

“Oh my god, that is the best strawberry I’ve ever tasted!” I announced. “Here taste one.”

I picked out another from the small pile of fruit on my breakfast plate and passed it to my 19 year-old nephew. As soon as he popped it into his mouth his eyes widened and the smile grew on his face.

“It’s awesome, ridiculously awesome.” he replied.

Who knew fruit could be so fabulous?

California was full of small surprises like that. From the insanely delicious fruit, yummy donuts and burgers, to the jaw dropping vistas along Pacific Coast Highway and Harry Potter in 3D, there was something for everyone on the trip to enjoy.

For the most part summer vacations with family have only meant one thing—a week at the beach. It’s never been our thing to spend a week driving from one place to the next sightseeing along the way. I’m happy with the sights I see from the comfort of my beach chair. If I can see the ocean and dig my feet into the warm sand then I’m good.

California was not going to be that kind of vacation. It was more along the lines of in the car each day and drive, drive, drive to the next stop on the list of things to see and do. To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure how it would all work out.

Drive we did, but fortunately our rental car had been upgraded to a Toyota Sienna mini-van, a vehicle that afforded us the room needed for three teenaged siblings that sometimes require a little of their own space.

A week later the van was returned to it’s home at the airport with an additional 1,000 miles and an illuminated warning light pleading for someone to change its oil. The van’s exterior was covered in dust and bird droppings. The latter a result of a surprise attack by a few seagulls as my nephew sat waiting for me to check out of the hotel in Monterey.

How does one describe the journey of a thousand miles sufficiently? One word works for me—surprises.

The California I knew consisted of beaches and palm trees with a few Hollywood types thrown in. Sure, I knew Gilroy to be the garlic capital of the world and had read a few things about Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley. What I didn’t know about was something referred to as the “real California.” My journey down 101 south proved to be a glorious adventure. I wasn’t driving at that point so it was easy to sit back and take in the impressive hills and fields that surrounded the highway. The land stretched uninterrupted to the horizon, with only a few trees and cows dotting the canvas. To see so much untouched land was inspiring, especially for someone who lives in the suburbs of the nation’s capital.

Route 101 runs into Hwy 46, another road of imposing landscapes. Before long, we found ourselves at the crossroads of a place known as Lost Hills, CA. The busy store located there, Blackwell’s Corner, is known for its selection of local pistachios and almonds. It’s also the last place that James Dean stopped in before heading north to his demise on the road to Salinas.

From Route 46 we continued south to Anaheim and the “house of mouse.”

It costs $80 for a one-day ticket to the happiest place on earth. My sister decided early on that if we were going to spend that kind of money we were going to get our money’s worth. The night before was spent plotting our attack on Disneyland.

The next morning we hit breakfast at 6:30AM and made our way to the park joining the mass of people gathered on Main St., USA waiting for the one and only Mickey Mouse to open his house for the day. We were quickly schooled on the use of the FastPass, which allowed us to walk past the 100-minute line at Star Tours to the front. The day went off without a hitch, we rode Space Mountain twice, watched Minnie Mouse shake her thing in the parade and had a meet and greet with Mr. Mickey Mouse himself. My sister even survived being surprised and groped by Goofy.

And then came the fireworks. They started with Tinkerbell releasing her wand to unleash a single star shooting across the sky. It was just like it used to be when I watched the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights.

Dumbo made an appearance as well. He flew through the sky just like Timothy knew he could, no magic feather needed at all.

My sister, Jeen, turned to me at the end of the fireworks, “I just have to say, Dumbo brought a little tear to my eye. I just love Dumbo,” she admitted.

After our 14-hour day in Disney and a good night’s sleep we headed back north along the Pacific Coast highway.

The drive from Morro Bay to Monterey is 143 miles. The GPS calculated the trip should take about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Yeah, the GPS doesn’t account for stops that must be made along the way. Each curve in the road presents a new vista of beautifulness. There was blue sky, rocky beaches and the sun setting over the Pacific. With two photographers in the car it took about 4 hours to reach our destination. We arrived at our hotel in Monterey exhausted, not only from the drive, but also from the stress of the curving road and the ominous cliffs below with a little rolling fog thrown in.

The next morning was breakfast in Monterey with the crazy, delicious fruit. After the strawberry tasting we tried a raspberry.

“Wow,” my sister exclaimed, “you know when you eat something that’s raspberry flavored? This really tastes like that.”

Michael shook his head as he reached for a blackberry.

“This place is awesome.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Day 1...Done

After a week of meetings, classroom readying and a great deal of anticipation the real business of school got started today. I can report that the new 6th graders in the building made it through the day with nothing more than the usual first day mishaps. That means there were a few lost (and then found again) children, a couple worried mothers and fathers, and of course a tear or to shed.

I survived as well. And other than swollen feet and a scratchy throat from talking way too much I am no worse for the wear.